Domestic Anxiety and Sorrow

Linda Hixon
Issue Date: 
February, 2020
Article Body: 

Adin Ballou was looking for someone to blame. His oldest son was dying and Ballou needed to lash out.
On January 26, 1833, Adin Ballou Junior was sent on an errand. He became so ill so quickly his father had to rush to his side and returned him to the family home. Adin and Lucy called in medical advice, but the doctor incorrectly diagnosed measles before realizing this was scarlet fever.
“The case soon proved desperate and we were appalled at its aspect. Time had been inconsiderately lost and vigorous treatment delayed,” Ballou wrote. The boy, Ballou’s first child from his first marriage to wife Abigail Sayles, died on February 10 at only 10 years old. Worse for the family – everyone in the home had contracted the disease. And Lucy was pregnant.
There was more to come. The couple’s youngest son, Pearley Hunt Ballou, Lucy’s only child the couple had named after her illustrious father, was very sick. They thought he was improving, but twelve days after his brother’s death the two-year-old relapsed. “Medical aid was again called in and our best efforts were put forth to save him, but all in vain,” Ballou wrote, noting the death was not peaceful. The boy’s brain swelled, causing several seizures before he died. “He was a bright and loving child, but of slender health, and during this last painful illness, as well as before, gave forth very tender and affecting little utterances, which still linger in the memory of those who gave him birth,” Ballou wrote decades later.
For Adin Ballou, February really was the cruelest month. First wife Abigail had died on February 20, 1829, only a few weeks after daughter Abbie was born. And years later, on February 8, 1852, cherished son Adin Augustus Ballou would die of typhoid fever. This was the baby Lucy was carrying when Adin Junior and little Pearley succumbed to “scarletina.” All this pain led Ballou to think of the future. “The causes, preventives, and cure of disease will no doubt be better known in future ages than at present, and such knowledge will, I believe, deliver our human race from most of the ills to which it is now subject, and from most of the pain, suffering, and premature death that now afflict it,” he predicted.
Lucy Ballou tends to get lost in her husband’s shadow. A very public figure, Adin Ballou was a minister, a speaker, and a writer of many books, tracts, and sermons. Lucy was his second wife, and even though she started as partner to the man who started the Practical Christian Movement, she ended up married to the man who lost Hopedale to the Drapers.
But that came later. Lucy Hunt met Adin Ballou in 1827 when he gave the oration at the Independence Day celebrations in Milford. Ballou noted the meeting in his Autobiography. Lucy was “tastefully attired,” when she gave an “elegant gift” to the day’s honoree. After Abigail died, Ballou became ill and Lucy nursed him in his convalescence. He formed a “very strong and tender attachment” to Lucy, “an attachment which some months later ripened into marriage.”
Adin Ballou started keeping notes for his autobiography early on – whether Lucy ever read the book is unknown, but if she had she would have known that Ballou’s first marriage was a love-match. The description of Abigail’s death tells that story. “She desired me to pray with and for her (which I did as best I could with my anguish-stricken spirit and quivering lip), assured me of her unabated dying love for me…and expressed the wish that her body might be buried in some place where mine at last could rest by its side,” Ballou wrote of his “beloved wife.” “Thus about seven years after marriage I was bereaved of a most affectionate, devoted, and exemplary wife, whom I had every reason to love, confide in, cherish, and hold in perpetual and ever precious remembrance.”
His true feelings for Lucy, whom he married a year after Abigail’s death, are more muddled. Lucy may have been a means to an end. “I yearned for the companionship, the sympathy, the sweet heart-repose which can be found only in the domestic circle,” Ballou wrote, noting that by marrying Lucy his children were able to return home. “We very soon commenced housekeeping in the home that for more than a year had been so sadly broken up and troubled.”
A hand-drawn portrait of Lucy as an elderly woman shows a sadness in her eyes that is unmistakable. None of her writings survived, so we don’t know her thoughts on the loss of her children. But Lucy had mothered Abbie Ballou since infancy – maybe that was enough.